You’ve reined in your soda habit, and those pizza anonymous meetings have worked wonders for you. Nice. But junk food aside, there are a handful of eating habits—behaviors most men don’t even think about—that can shorten your life, promote disease, and balloon your waistline.
Here’s what you need to know, and how to make changes for a longer, healthier life.
YOU GORGE ON PROTEIN
Whether you’re slamming a protein shake after every gym visit or supersizing your order at the steakhouse, most men seem to eat as though meat, chicken, milk, eggs, and other animal-based protein sources are the foundation of a healthy diet. Protein is good for you. But you can certainly overdo it—and most men do.
For one thing, there’s little to no evidence that main-lining a protein shake after lifting weights will promote muscle growth, finds research from California State University, Northridge. Another recent study—this one from the journal Nutrients—found no gains in strength or muscle mass among weight lifters who ate protein after a workout, compared to those who didn’t. (The protein eaters did add fat mass, the study found.)
Meanwhile, research is mounting that overloading your diet with protein may shorten your life. One study from the University of Southern California found cancer rates jump 400% among men who swallow 20% or more of their daily calories in the form of protein.
You don’t have to give up steak or eggs. But skipping that post-workout shake and ordering the filet—not the porterhouse—is a good idea, nutrition experts say.
YOU EAT WHENEVER YOU’RE HUNGRY
For the last decade, “grazing” has been a popular fad among trainers and under-informed fitness gurus. The idea is that, by eating steadily throughout the day, you can keep your blood sugar and energy levels stable, and also stop your body from slipping into “starvation mode,” which supposedly leads to body fat buildup.
All of that is horseshit, experts say. The more you eat, the more you train your brain and body to expect (and crave) food all the time, according to a study from University College London. More research has linked infrequent meals—even big ones—to lower body weights and longer lives.
Experts say trusting your gut to tell you when you need to eat is bad advice. Stick to three squares and few or no snacks, and you’ll be healthier. It may be tough at first, but after a month or two you’ll have retrained your body not to expect food all the time.
YOU EAT TOO FAST
Compared to women, men tend to chew food less before swallowing. Guys also finish meals more quickly, finds a 2015 study from South Korea. That’s bad, because lots of research has linked fast eating with over-eating.
Studies from Cornell University and elsewhere indicate there’s a lag between the time food hits your stomach, and your stomach sending your brain its “OK, that’s enough” signals. So if you plow through a meal, you’re not giving your gut time to feel full.
Slow down, chew your food, and try to take a sip of water in between bites. Do this, and you’ll eat less but feel just as full after a meal, experts say.
YOU EAT CLOSE TO BEDTIME
Whether it’s cookies and milk or a late-evening dinner, eating in the hour or two before you hit the snack disrupts your sleep patterns, shows research from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. This leads to less-restful sleep, which in turn spikes your body’s level of a hormone called ghrelin.
Ghrelin seems to supercharge hunger cravings. So if you’re a late-night nibbler, you’re fueling unhealthy daytime binges that promote weight gain and all its associated health issues (heart disease, cancer, etc.).
Stop eating at least two hours before bedtime, and you’ll sleep more soundly and dodge those problem-eating behaviors, research shows.
YOU EAT IN FRONT OF THE TV
If you’re engrossed in a movie or TV show, you won’t notice—or stop eating—when you feel full. As a result, you tend to overeat if you eat in front of the boob tube, shows more research from Cornell. In particular, watching action movies or shows led people to eat double the amount of food they swallowed while watching a talk show, the Cornell study team found.
Turn off the TV at mealtimes, and you’ll eat less. Also, if you’re snacking in front of a screen, keep your portion sizes small. When you bring the whole bag of chips or pretzels to the couch with you, you’re asking for trouble, the Cornell researchers say.